Police department review

Casper police chief Jim Wetzel listens Oct. 18 as victims of sexual abuse talk about their experiences during a Casper City Council meeting. The city manager, with Wetzel’s support, recently requested $53,000 for an independent review of the police department.

Dan Cepeda, Star-Tribune

With the support of the police chief, Casper’s city manager requested an outside review of the Casper Police Department on Tuesday to evaluate how well the department is doing its job.

City Manager V.H. McDonald and Chief Jim Wetzel asked the city council to consider paying more than $53,000 to the Center for Public Safety Management for the review. McDonald said Wednesday that he requested the review as part of the development of the department’s five-year plan.

“I initiated this; I requested this with the cooperation of the police department and the chief,” McDonald said Wednesday. “We’re going to see if our efforts are on track with an outside, partial review and refine them where they need to be refined.”

In its proposal to the city, the Center for Public Safety Management said it would use data to determine officers’ workload, examine the department’s structure and culture, compare the department’s operations to industry standards and make recommendations. The review would take between three and five months after the city signs an agreement with the company.

According to the proposal, the center has completed a similar review of the Laramie Police Department.

At the work session, councilmembers generally supported the proposal and agreed to consider it at later full council meeting.

“I hate the idea of taking on another line item or another cost, but if you look at the cost of a lawsuit when someone carries out their duties inappropriately … this is a relatively small amount of money,” Vice Mayor Ray Pacheco said. “I think it’s almost like buying insurance in a way.”

Councilwoman Amanda Huckabay said it was important to have an impartial third party because it would help to fix a negative image of police in Casper. She said that while being an officer is difficult and dangerous, the experiences of crime victims are important as well.

“That being said, the cost of being a victim of rape or domestic violence is a life sentence,” Huckabay said. “And the sheer number of women that have emailed all of us and shared their concerns and their experiences — if nothing else we owe it to them to do this.”

In the memo to council, McDonald outlined a number of challenges that law enforcement faces, including eroded public trust and confidence in police across the country and “increasingly brazen” violence against officers. He also noted difficulties recruiting new officers and retaining them, increased responsibilities that officers take on and decreased state and local funding.

“The analysis is a critical component to correctly and accurately assess the Department’s needs and requirements, and formulate a strategic plan and way forward,” McDonald wrote in the memo to city council.

Wetzel didn’t speak much during the work session Tuesday but later released a recorded statement about the proposed review.

“The Department cannot take an operational pause or time-out to reflect and deliberate on its current position within the above debates,” Wetzel said in a recorded statement. “Doing so only puts Department staff further behind the demands and issues.”

Wetzel compared trying to fix problems within the department while maintaining full operations to “building, repairing and maintaining the car as it is driving down the road at 80 miles per hour.”

If approved, the review would be a part of the department’s development of a five-year plan. The review would help the department identify where it can do better so that efforts at improving are more efficient.

Additional reporting contributed by Star-Tribune staff writer Arno Rosenfeld.

Follow crime and courts reporter Elise Schmelzer on Twitter @eliseschmelzer

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Features Editor

Elise Schmelzer joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 after graduating from the University of Missouri and interning at newspapers around the country. As features editor, she oversees arts and culture coverage and reports stories on a broad variety of topics.

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